Matt Lambros does it again with a beautiful new “abandoned” coffee table book: “After the Final Curtain, America’s Abandoned Theaters.”
What I appreciate about Lambros’ abandoned theater book is he shows the reader the haunting beauty of the past – long before today’s multiplex. Shredded curtains, torn seats, weeping plaster and grimy statues fill Lambros’ photographs.
In this book, he photographs 20 theaters in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Illinois and California. He is often able to obtain historic photos and makes comparisons from when they first opened to their crumbing existence today.
One chapter features the Loew’s 46th Street Theatre in Brooklyn, New York. Opening in 1927 as the Universal Theatre, it was designed by famous theater architect John Eberson. The ceiling was painted dark blue and featured small twinkling lights to represent the night sky. Clouds were projected on the ceiling from projectors on both sides of the auditorium. There were 2,675 seats.
Lambros writes that an estimated 25,000 people showed up for the opening. Police tried to keep order by cording off the entrance, but the crowd stormed inside and took up seats in the orchestra pit and balcony without paying. The theater lost $5,000 in admission ($73,046 adjusted for inflation).
The film showed that evening was “Alias the Deacon.”
In 1928 Lowe’s purchased the theater and immediately closed it to add a sound system for talking pictures. It reopened four months later and was renamed Lowes’s 46th Street Theatre.
Newspaper advertisements proclaimed “Bringing Times Square to Boro Park.”
The opening day program had four vaudeville acts and a showing of “Beau Broadway.”
“By 1940, the atmospheric effects had fallen into disrepair and were no longer used,” the author writes. The theater was sold by Lowe’s Corporation in 1966 and it was run as an independent movie theater until it closed in 1971.
Its next incarnation was as a bingo hall, and then in 1973 as a concert venue.
Many famous bands played here: Al Green, The Byrds, The Grateful Dead, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Bee Gees, Steely Dan, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Randy Newman. The concert venue closed the same year because of community pressure. They felt that the concerts were causing too much noise.
Next, it was sold to a furniture company in 1974 and converted into a storage facility. The lobby was used as a showroom.
It is very fortunate that Lambros took the photos of the interior because the last renovation came when the building was gutted and converted into an 80-unit apartment building.
This is only one example of the theaters featured. The beauty of these important buildings is almost lost in time. Lambros brings us a glimpse of their glory days and offers a look at a different place in time.book review